Establishing Strong Foundations: Essential Steps in Dog Training

Starting Strong: The Key to Successful Dog Training

June 12, 2024

John Gray 'the most successful approach in a relationship is to focus first on creating good communication

In the realm of successful relationships, John Gray famously advocates for prioritizing good communication. This principle isn’t exclusive to human interactions; it’s equally pivotal in the bond between dogs and their owners. Just as humans rely on verbal cues, dogs primarily communicate through non-verbal language. To bridge this gap effectively, we must establish a robust communication system that harnesses the strengths of both species.

Our approach begins with recognizing and respecting the inherent communication methods of each participant. Dogs express themselves primarily through non-verbal communication of body language, scents and sounds, while humans rely a lot on verbal communication, including tone and language. By integrating these two systems, we create a comprehensive communication framework that maximizes understanding and cooperation. Drumroll….enter the Doggy Dictionary!


What exactly is a Doggy Dictionary, and why should you start with it? Simply put, it’s a language that both ends of the leash can share – a structured system of communication that bridges the gap between human and canine understanding. By creating this shared language linked to physical associations, we empower ourselves to communicate effectively with our fdogs, enhancing cooperation and mutual understanding.

Now, let’s delve into the practicalities of creating your Doggy Dictionary. This dictionary consists of three key chapters, each addressing specific aspects of communication:


Chapter 1: Window of Opportunity

In this chapter, we delve into the importance of timing and observation. Dogs communicate through subtle gestures and behaviours, often expressing their needs and intentions long before vocalizing them. By understanding and capitalizing on this “window of opportunity,” owners can preemptively address their dog’s needs and desires, fostering a deeper connection and mutual trust.

Think of it as opening a channel of communication that invites your dog to actively participate in training sessions and bonding activities, and other times we let them know it’s time for them to have some free time. Within the Window of Opportunity, there are three distinct phases:

  • Engagement: Encourage your dog to focus and interact with you, whether through play, training exercises, or other stimulating activities.
  • Non-engagement – Free Liberty: Providing your dog with the freedom to be themselves, allowing them to choose their level of activity and engagement, all within reason of course.
  • Non-engagement – Calm Liberty: Promoting a state of relaxation and low level of arousal in your dog, reinforcing moments of calmness and peaceful behaviour.
  • For working dogs – we would use their ‘uniform’ as a cue of focussed purpose.


Chapter 2: Markers

Markers are not just signals; they’re the cornerstone of fostering independence in your dog’s training journey. Whether it’s a clicker or a specific verbal cue, markers provide precise feedback that guides your dog towards desired behaviours or away from undesired behaviours. But their significance goes beyond simple communication – they empower your dog to make informed decisions and take ownership of their actions. This is a great way to minimise anxiousness and frustration in our dogs.

So, how do we unlock the key to independence through constructive and relevant feedback? It starts with understanding the power of timing, specificity, and the psychological mechanisms at play, including the role of dopamine and the parallels with gambling. Dopamine, often referred to as the “reward neurotransmitter,” plays a crucial role in shaping behaviour and learning. When your dog receives positive feedback in the form of a marker, such as a click or a verbal cue, it triggers a release of dopamine in their brain. This surge of dopamine serves as a natural reinforcement, signalling to your dog that they’ve done something right and encouraging them to seek out similar experiences in the future.

Much like in gambling, where the anticipation of a reward triggers dopamine release and reinforces the behaviour of continued participation, markers create a similar feedback loop in your dog’s mind. Each marker delivered promptly and precisely acts as a small “win” for your dog, reinforcing the desired behaviour and encouraging them to repeat it in hopes of receiving another reward.

This understanding of the dopamine-driven feedback loop underscores the importance of timing and specificity in marker training. Each marker should be delivered at the exact moment when your dog exhibits the desired behaviour, maximizing the impact of the reward and reinforcing the connection between their actions and the resulting outcome. This clarity allows your dog to make the association between their behaviour and the positive feedback, empowering them to replicate and build upon their successes with confidence and independence.

By leveraging the power of dopamine and understanding the parallels with gambling, you can harness the full potential of constructive and relevant feedback in your dog’s training journey, paving the way for independence, confidence, and lasting behavioural change.

In essence, markers serve as more than just communication tools – they’re catalysts for empowerment and self-discovery. By harnessing the power of markers in your training regimen, you pave the way for a confident, independent, and well-rounded canine companion. In a future blog we can talk about the markers regarding warnings and penalties.

Chapter 3: Commands

Commands serve as the backbone of obedience training, providing a structured framework through which owners can effectively communicate their expectations and guide their dog’s behaviour. However, it’s essential to recognize that commands are not mere suggestions; they are directives that must be followed, especially when the safety of the dog is at risk, akin to how young children may not be aware of the danger.


To ensure successful command implementation, two key aspects of obedience must be emphasized:

  1. Compliance within 2 seconds: Timing is critical in obedience outside in the real world. Commands should be followed by prompt and immediate compliance from the dog, ideally within 2 seconds of the command being issued. This ensures that the dog understands the command and responds promptly, even in potentially dangerous situations where quick action is necessary for their safety.
  2. Reliance despite distractions: Obedience training isn’t just about following commands in controlled environments; it’s about building reliability and consistency in all situations. Dogs must learn to continue performing the requested exercise until they receive a release or a different command, regardless of distractions or temptations present in their environment. This level of reliance ensures that the dog’s obedience is unwavering, even in the face of challenging distractions or threats.


Furthermore, it’s crucial to address the challenge of generalization in obedience training. Dogs may struggle to generalize learned behaviours when the context, such as time, place, or circumstances, changes. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the owner to help their dog generalize obedience exercises by practising them in various environments and situations. This helps reinforce the command’s meaning across different contexts, ensuring that the dog can reliably perform the desired behaviour regardless of the circumstances.

By emphasizing compliance, reliance, and generalization in obedience training, owners can empower their dogs to navigate the world with confidence and obedience, ensuring their safety and well-being in any situation.


In conclusion, effective communication lies at the heart of successful dog training and relationship building. By embracing a holistic approach that incorporates both non-verbal and verbal communication methods, owners can establish a strong foundation for understanding and cooperation with their canine companions. Through the implementation of a structured communication system, such as the doggy dictionary, we empower both ends of the leash to communicate effectively, fostering a harmonious and fulfilling relationship.

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